Thursday, October 23, 2008

Football Party Menu

Le Cellier, Canadian Cheese Soup (Epcot World Showcase)
Traditional Shepherd's Pie made with tomato, lamb and sage
Hot Cheese Dip from Big Damn Chefs
Custard in baked pumpkins
Apple crisp
Assorted appetizers including olive tapenade, chips and salsa, French onion dip, baked Buffalo wings and hummus
Assorted wines and beers

Go Blue!

Improv recipe: Baked oatmeal

Today was the tailgating party for my office. We celebrate the yearly regional college football rivalry with a potluck. Actually, we celebrate pretty much everything with a potluck, but that's beside the point.

I'd gotten some steel-cut oats, so I decided to make some baked oatmeal. Steel cut oats are different then rolled oats. They are small little squares/cylinders instead of flakes, and they take longer to cook. But the texture is delightfully chewy, and the flavor is heartier. You can find them in most grocery stores, sometimes called Irish oats or pinhead oats.

Alton Brown's got a decent crock-pot oats recipe, but I wanted something i could transport easily on the bus, so I looked for recipes just for baking.

I found a couple good ones, but I didn't have all the ingredients, like raisins, on hand. So I took the basic requirements, 1 cup of oats to 4 cups of liquid, cook for 30 minutes at 325, and played around with it.

In the end, I came out with an extremely sweet, tasty and filling oats recipe, guaranteed to feed a crowd.

Spiced Baked Oatmeal
For the spice, I used a loose herbal chai tea mix that has actual pieces of chocolate beans, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom in it. If you can't find that, use mulling spices. The main thing is you want big pieces of stuff--nothing powdered, and you want flavors that will go well with sweet.
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
2 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2cups water
1 can sweetened condensed milk
3 Tablespoons mulling spices or chunky chai tea mix
1/2 cup dried fruit, such as raisins or cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix liquids together in large saucepan. Add spice mix. Heat just under boiling. Turn off heat, let steep for 5 minutes. Strain into bowl. Using saucepan, heat up 2 tablespoons butter. Add oats to butter, stir for a couple minutes until they start to smell toasty. Don't let them burn. Add milk mixture back to the pan, add dried fruit. Stir until combined.

Spray 9 inch square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Place pan on cookie sheet to catch spills or drips. Pour milk and oats into baking dish. Cook for 30 minutes. If it's not done, cook for 10minutes more until it starts to set up. Stir to make sure everything is evenly distributed. Put a few dried fruit pieces on the top to make it look pretty. Serve warm.

This is extremely sweet and rich and doesn't need any brown sugar or cream on the side.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Magical biscotti

I was home sick one day this week, and had some Amish Friendship sourdough starter that needed to be used up. But, since I wasn't feeling well, I didn't follow the recipe exactly.

I forgot to add the sugar.

Did I mention I wasn't feeling well?

I tried a piece, and it wasn't all that bad. The flavor and texture was OK, but the loaves were a little crumbly and not very sweet. I suppose I could have served it as a savory side bread, but it was kind of bland.

As I looked at the slice of bread, my illness-addled brain realized how closely it resembled biscotti in shape and texture.

Thus, magical biscotti was born.

I whipped around the kitchen to find a baking sheet. Since the bread-cum-biscotti needed something extra, I also made a quick chocolate glaze to drizzle on the finished product. I found some chocolate melts, some butter, some vanilla, and some orange oil, and I was good to go.

While the biscotti were baking, I microwaved the chocolate, then added the other ingredients until the sauce was dark, shiny and smooth.

As the biscotti cooled I went all Jackson Pollack on them.

The finished product looked awesome. They tasted slightly less awesome. The texture was a little off, and they tasted more like pieces of toast than actual biscotti. But I'd gotten my mind of my illness for a couple hours, and I'd discovered a good way to use up leftover quick breads, which are notorious for going stale. I'd call that a win.

Magical biscotti
Obviously, these are nowhere near authentic, and I sincerely hope my dead Italian Grandma will forgive me for this. The recipe works best with sweeter breads, like banana bread, zucchini bread, amish friendship bread. To use savory breads like cheese or herb bread, see the savory variation below.
part of a loaf of quick bread
1/4 cup chocolate chips
chocolate chips
vanilla extract
1 drop orange oil

Preheat oven to 350. Slice quick bread into 1-inch slices. Cut slices in half, lengthwise, so you have roughly a finger-sized slice of bread. Carefully place on baking sheet, making sure the bread does not crumble.

Bake 10-15 minutes. You do not want the biscotti to brown. They will get harder once you remove them from the oven.

While biscotti are baking, Make sauce. Microwave chocolate chips until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Add a tablespoon of butter. Add vanilla and stir. If chocolate gets gritty, add more vanilla until it smooths out. Add one drop of orange oil.

While sauce is warm, drizzle over biscotti. You can also dip one side of biscotti completely into chocolate if you like.

Savory variation
5 minutes before end of baking, sprinkle biscotti with any shredded cheese of your choice--sharp cheddar, Gruyere, freshly grated parmesan, or a mix of cheeses would be great.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oktoberfest Taste Test

Oktoberfest beers are lagers, which means they are fermented at colder temperatures. They are technically harder to make than ales, and they have a different flavor profile. A little more subtle than ales, but still tasty. They tend to be a very clean, refreshing taste. If you've ever tried Red Stripe, that's a lager.

I actually tasted 4 or 5 Oktoberfest beers for this tasting, but lost track of which beer was which after the first few. So I've only got two full sets of tasting notes. Sorry. Oktoberfest is a strong beer, at around 5-6% alcohol, but it doesn't drink like one. After those two reviews, I will give my impressions, overall, of the other beers.

1. Weihenstephaner Oktoberfest Marzen
Nice head. Not too foamy, but it didn't disappear right after I poured it, either. The was a lovely amber color. I didn't get much smell from the glass, but once I tasted it, I could detect a good malt flavor. It wasn't very hoppy. The hops I did detect were at the front of the sip, the malt rounded out the back and provided a nice aftertaste. As I drank the beer, the hops built up a bit on my tongue and became more noticeable, but still a well-balanced beer. This was an easy drinking beer, and didn't feel like the 5.6% alcohol that it was.

2. Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
Redder than the first beer. Not much head at all, and what head there was faded quickly. A roasted, toasted note at the front of the sip. A tad sour. Very little hops, but hops were at the end of the sip. Somewhat bitter finish. There was also a malty flavor I tend to associate with pilsner beers at the end, as an aftertaste. The only way I can describe this is like a Bud or a Labatt's finish.

I found it interesting that, though the flavor profiles were pretty much the same on these two beers, each beer expressed those flavors in a different way. Everything I was tasting was pretty subtle, and after a while, the beers began to blend together.

But all the other beers I tried were very similar. Perhaps more hops for one, different malt taste on the other, but all were medium- bodied or lighter, fairly carbonated, and easy to drink. I tended to prefer the German Oktoberfests, but this may have been bias on my part. Would be interesting to do a blind tasting at some point to see if this holds up.

In short, you can't go wrong with Oktoberfest, especially if you like lager beer. I'd suggest getting a few and trying them to see which you prefer, at least one German if you can.

And, as I've said before, if you can find an Oktoberfest on draft, done by a microbrewer, drink that. You will quickly learn what "fresh" beer really is.

Don't drink and drive kids, and have fun!